A reign mark records the name of the Chinese dynasty and the reign of the emperor during which the piece was made. It comprises four or six Chinese characters, and is usually found on the base of a work of art commissioned for the Emperor or his imperial household. Reign marks are most commonly written in vertical columns and are read from top to bottom, and from right to left. It is thought that this system of reading and writing grew from ancient Chinese traditions of writing on vertical strips of bamboo or bone. Reign marks can also be written in a horizontal line that is read from right to left. Reign marks follow a set format, and a six-character mark can be broken down as follows: the first two characters refer to the dynasty, and are either Da Ming meaning ‘Great Ming’ dynasty (1368-1644), or Da Qing, translated as ‘Great Qing’ dynasty (1644-1911); the second two characters refer to the name of the Emperor; and the last two characters, Nian Zhi, mean ‘made for’. Four-character reign marks simply omit the first two characters recording the name of the dynasty. For example, the two six-character reign marks illustrated above read: Da Ming Jiajing Nian Zhi, ‘Made in the Gre...